Many people that practice polyamory struggle with anxiety and insecurity. This is, of course, not limited to polyamorous people, and so this post is actually geared towards anxiety and insecurity, broadly speaking, instead of specifically relating to polyamory. As someone…
In February 2019, testimonies and stories of abuse were publicly released by some of the ex-partners of Franklin Veaux, one of the co-authors of the extremely popular book on polyamory More Than Two. In fact, one of the people that came forward was the other co-author of More Than Two, Eve Rickert. These former partners came together to tell their stories over the past year, with the majority of the details posted at or linked to from polyamory-metoo.com. In the wake of this, many people have been reeling, and trying to parse how they should move forward. Some people are shaken because of trust placed in someone that placed himself in a position of authority. Others are simply questioning whether they should read or recommend More Than Two anymore.
The beginning of a new relationship is a great time. High on NRE, or New Relationship Energy, you feel like everything is perfect, and the other person is perfect for you. Usually little to no conflict, and the sex is amazing. What could possibly go wrong?
A lot, it turns out.
NRE is the phase in which hormones are raging and making you feel like you’re in love and in lust with this person. On average, it lasts around six months, but it can last anywhere from a couple months up to a couple of years, depending on the people involved, the type of relationship, and how often they see each other. In this time, you’re often feeling the thrill of a new romantic and sexual connection, and usually have great chemistry besides that. The majority of long-term relationships go through an NRE phase, and it’s not in and of itself a bad thing. The problem arises when some very common mistakes are made that can end up costing you the new relationship, or more.
Couple privilege is the advantage that an established couple has, which is especially pronounced when a new person is added to a relationship, whether the new person is dating one or both of them. This is most obvious when the established couple has been together for a long time, especially if they live together, or are married. There is no way out of couple privilege – it’s just there, giving silent advantages that people consider normal. It is mainly brought up as a problem with “unicorn hunters” or those that enforce a primary/secondary prescriptive hierarchy, but it can come up in any scenario where two people are dating before another person comes into the picture. Even if you’re an egalitarian Relationship Anarchist, couple privilege can sneak up on you when you’re not looking.
(There are some people that completely dismiss the idea of “privilege” as a thing in any scenario, which is a completely different problem, but it definitely still exists. If you’d prefer to call it something else, you could call it “couple advantage,” but it boils down to the same thing.)
In many cases, the way in which couple privilege is most visible is when a new partner starts a relationship with one or both people in an established relationship, and the people in the existing relationship give the new partner a list of rules in a take-it-or-leave-it manner. The couple often gives the reason that if the third person doesn’t like the rules, they are free to leave. This is only one of the more obvious ways, however; there are many smaller ways that are less obvious and sometimes more insidious.
This isn’t to say that couple privilege is necessarily a bad thing on its own, it’s just a thing that is there. Having privilege doesn’t make you a bad person, as it’s just something that happens. It’s what you do with that privilege that matters.
The argument over hierarchy is one of the most contentious ones in the polyamorous community. Many people find it important to label their relationships Primary, Secondary, and sometimes even Tertiary. Others are militant in stating that terms like that are unfair to those labeled Secondary or Tertiary. Some have used terms that attempt to remove the hierarchy, such as nesting partner or anchor partner, sometimes in place of the term Primary. The argument has been made that a nesting (cohabiting) relationship or a marriage automatically enforces a hierarchy, and those in nesting relationships are unable to be non-hierarchical.
This argument is rehashed constantly, probably second only to the argument over unicorn hunters. Something I’ve realized, however, is that often those that argue will end up agreeing on everything except what the term “hierarchy” even means.
There is a solution to this argument, and it lies in the concept of prescriptive hierarchies versus descriptive hierarchies.
When you first tell someone that you're polyamorous, there's one question that almost everyone will be asked: "But don't you get jealous?" The answer to that, for many experienced poly people, is a look of confusion followed by "Of course!" Polyamorous…
When it comes to polyamory, there can be two extremes: One set of people demand relationship rules to, in theory, make sure relationships go exactly as they want. Other people reject the entire concept of rules, and try to ignore or rebel against them, solely because they’re rules. While there are plenty of people in the middle, the two extremes are certainly the loudest. A problem with both sides, is that they often lump rules and boundaries together. A lot of people feel like rules and boundaries are the same thing, but they most definitely are not.